Most of Yakima County’s COVID-19 cases are coming from community spread and social gatherings, with agricultural workplaces making up a smaller chunk of transmissions.
Overall, the percentage of total new cases in Yakima County from agricultural and food production workers has remained in the 10% to 15% range, health officials said. In recent months, there have been only a handful of cases from workers at fruit packing houses, a significant contributor to new cases early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
New cases from the agricultural and food production industry lately have come from outbreaks among foreign guest workers working the apple and hop harvests. According to data acquired in a public records request, there were more than 200 new COVID-19 cases from those in the agricultural industry between mid-July to October.
All but a handful were H-2A workers for several growers. The majority of cases were tied to eight identified outbreaks, defined as two or more cases within 14 days with an epidemiological connection. The federal H-2A program allows growers to bring in temporary workers from other countries.
Four of those outbreaks involved workers who have been staying at the Fairbridge Inn in Yakima, a former hotel that was converted to provide farmworker housing for several growers. More than half of new agricultural cases were from workers who were at the residence between mid-July and the end of October.
After several outbreaks were detected in early September, the Yakima Health District tested all the 850 to 900 H-2A workers staying at the facility. According to a letter sent to growers at the end of September, about 28 new cases were identified during that testing period.
While the cases came from workers staying at the Fairbridge Inn, it’s more likely that transmission happened outside the complex, through community spread, said Brittany Morrison, lead and supervisor for the COVID-19 outbreak, response and investigative team at the Yakima Health District.
“We compared clusters by room numbers, looked for potential links, and ultimately did not find spread between growers, which is why we determined that the outbreaks were not facility-associated,” Morrison said.
Cases from July involved H-2A workers who tested positive upon arrival.
Infection likely then spread among a single cohort of workers living together or between multiple cohorts for the same grower, Morrison said.
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